The Power of Intellectual Curiosity
I think the greatest gift God gave me is a love of learning.
Most of the time I don’t even care what the subject is (though I do have my limits), I just want to know stuff about it. Where did curling come from? What’s a flashmob? What’s the origin of the word “separate”? I just like to learn stuff.
As a result I’ve spent the last year and a half making a living doing something about as far removed from my college education as could be. I became curious about how people made websites look so good, so I found out (and I’ve still got a lot of finding to do). Intellectual curiosity has had other, more profound effects on my life, and my family.
My wife received the same gift as I did, which means that trips to Borders or Half Price Books are like trips to Six Flags for a lot of people, and Google is our family’s closest friend. With these gifts we’ve made quite a few discoveries that have changed the way we live. And plenty that haven’t, but were just as much fun.
In the early 80’s a child received 8 recommended vaccines. Did you know that today that number is 36? I would bet that you didn’t, unless you saw Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey on Larry King recently. Did you know you can clean (almost) anything in your house with distilled white vinegar? We haven’t bought any cleaning products in months. Did you know Charlie O’Connell played a slacker cop on an early episode of Sliders, a few seasons before becoming Colin?
These tidbits are all great and some are helpful, but the real benefit of intellectual curiosity comes not in changing the way we live, but the way we think. Understanding our circumstances can change the way we look at ourselves. Understanding history can change the way we look at nations, races, and tribes all around us.Understanding the way people have searched for and described things like happiness, peace, truth, and unity can help us understand what we are searching for. And understanding how others have experienced God can help us do the same.
Our curiosity can also protect us from false teachers. There have been some disputes lately, involving wheter it is better to name a false teacher or allude to one. Or even whether it is arrogant to call someone a false teacher, as it forces you to assume a position of judgment.
Personally, I think it’s better to name the teacher, and that it is not arrogant to do so, as long as it is not done arrogantly. That’s an important distinction. But what is the root cause of this problem? It is that we are constantly getting taken in by those who preach their own message.
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
In many ways we’ve followed this command well, but in far too many we have failed. Our failures at innocence known, and talked about constantly amongst ourselves and by those outside the church. Richard Dawkins got a lot of mileage out of them in The God Delusion. Our failure in wisdom has been significant as well.
Far too many of us are willing to coast through our Christian lives without ever questioning our pastors, unless they tell us we can’t do something that we really want to do (that’s when we start buying commentaries). Sometimes we get all bent out of shape when they suggest that something we would never, ever do might be okay, or when they suggest we give a little slack to people in sin.
But for the most part, we absorb what they say (those who are listening, anyway) and move on, without ever wondering if they’re right. We’re failing at being wise.
That failure means that many of us also fail at being “prepared to give an answer for the hope that [we] have.” We don’t really know what we’re talking about, so when we’re challenged we (a) yell, or (b) nod along.
We are instructed to love God with our hearts, souls, and minds. But so much of evangelicalism is like a tripod with a missing (or broken) leg. The only way to fix it is to learn, read, ask questions. To seek the truth, so we can be set free.